Small talk: Manuel Rivas

Manuel Rivas was born in Galicia, northern Spain, in 1957. He began his writing career as a journalist and continues to write for several Spanish newspapers. His novels, poems and short stories, all written in Galician, include The Carpenter’s Pencil (1998). Three stories from his collection Que me quieres, amor? (1996) were woven into a screenplay for the 1999 film Butterfly’s Tongue, set during the Spanish civil war. Rivas is married with two children and still lives on the Galician coast.

Who is your perfect reader?

The one who listens to the message of the book.

What books are on your bedside table?

I keep strange company: Sufism and Surrealism by Adonis; Pure Football by Roberto Fontanarrosa; Correspondence by [the German poets] Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan; Rimbaud le fils by Pierre Michon; JM Coetzee’s Summertime; The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

One day I noticed that I talked to myself. On the way to school, in winter, I saw the letters of my breath rise out of my mouth. When I arrived at my class, I tried to recreate that writing in the air. Those were the first poems I had published in a magazine.

What is your writing routine?

I write all day but I don’t mind being interrupted. I am happy to take advantage of the unexpected.

Where do you write best?

In my bedroom in a shaded corner. But I also like a noisy bar called La Barra – the hustle and bustle protects you.

What do you snack on while you write?

Pieces of liquorice and lots of water.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

While I was writing Books Burn Badly I would hang the pages of the manuscript, like leaves, on washing lines so as to find the meaning of history, the secret symmetry, the golden ratio.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

With Samuel Beckett, and with Vladimir and Estragon.

Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?

I’m torn between Orson Welles and Anna Magnani.

When were you happiest?

As a boy, in my grandfather’s cherry tree; I felt like a blackbird. Afterwards, when I heard the click of the heels of a girl named Isabel. Always, when I dive into the sea.

How do you relax?

I like to walk imitating the style of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp. I do it in my hallway when I’m lost for ideas.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

By making bread. Or as a tailor.

What does it mean to be a writer?

The chorus in Antigone, by Sophocles, says that there are many strange things in the universe but the most strange (and formidable and terrible) is a human being. To be a writer is to be the voice of “the most strange”.

Manuel Rivas’s latest novel, ‘Books Burn Badly’, is published by Vintage

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